Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Greece - The East Or The West?

This is an interesting article which would undoubtedly trigger a lot of debate if it were in English (it is in German). The article reminds me of the historical debate in the Greek parliament where Konstantinos Karamanlis fought with Andreas Papandreou over the question of whether Greece belonged to the East or the West. Karamanlis emphatically argued that Greece belonged to the West. Papandreou deadpanned him by saying: "Greece belongs neither to the East nor the West. Greece belongs to the Greeks!" I mean, how can one top that?

In the North-Eastern corner of Europe, I never had any doubts that the Finns felt that they belonged to the West. In the South-Eastern corner of Europe, I often wondered whether Greek mentality was not closer to the mystic (and Orthodox) East than the rational West. To me, it was (and is) always very noticeable that Greece is a society which has not experienced some of the major European currents such as the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation, the Rennaisance, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, etc. Perhaps that is what makes Greece such a pleasant place to visit for rational Westerners...

The author makes the issue even more interesting because he recognizes today the same faultlines through Europe which had existed at the outbreak of WW2 over 100 years ago. I envy historians for understanding such long-term societal trends!


  1. "Perhaps that is what makes Greece such a pleasant place to visit for rational Westerners..."

    Exactly my feeling. The dysfunctional state and unreliable infrastructure is just a picturesque background for happy holidays.

    Perhaps Europe (The West) should pay the Greeks to stay that way, plus be the guardians of their cultural and natural environment. Great for tourism!

    I would be prepared tp pay for that.

  2. Good idea, indeed! Seriously!

  3. Sir,

    After admitting that I have not read the article you point to, since I don't speak german, I find it rather ironic that an article posing the question of the western "orientation" of Greece should come from a german journalist, of all people.

    The history of modern Germany has been permeated by the "Sonderweg" question: why has Germany not followed the course of Western nations and societies in modern era, and which elements of its historical and cultural background led to this peculiar historical deviation?

    One might remind Mr Seewald that until the Allies beat the hell out of Germany in WWII, she did not feel very much a part of the West, and was not actually considered as such by the "West" itself. She was hastily admitted to the club immediately after the war, since another political enemy of "ambiguous" cultural "orientation" was ante portas. At the very same time, countries like e.g. Japan started being treated as an integral part of the "West".

    One might object that, be the situation as it may up to WWII, Germany has since firmly embedded itself in the "West" whereas "Greece has not". But if identities – either cultural or political – are attributed to currents as remote as the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation, the Rennaisance, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution etc, then a mere (and enforced) seventy years of german "western identity" do not guarantee it to be very solid.

    Bottomline: Questions about Greece's cultural and political identity and orientation are as legitimate as they are for any other nation. But when the question is used, implicitly or explicitly, as a political argument (or slur) in a political clash as the one underway now, Germans ought to refrain from that particular argument. It stands against them as much as it might (or might not) stand against Greece. When it comes to "westerness", let the English and the French do the talking.

    After all, they are the copyright holders.

    1. Questions about Greece's cultural and political identity are on the table for a simple reason: The country has managed within a few weeks to be almost completely isolated. The outside world neither understands the bridge-burning approach of the new government nor the resentment loaded psyche of the Greek public.

      In all honesty your contribution only reinforces the impression that Greece might be better off outside the bounds of the European cultural and legal traditions.

    2. The isolation is primarily along a left-right axis (with the French not being committed either way) and in this specific context is pro-austerity economics versus rational economics. The specific context is, of course, not even simple left-right because much of the global right is opposed to the crazy ideas that Germany is imposing on Europe. One might characterise it as European right, with Syriza out on its own as the only genuinely left government in the EU.

    3. Sir,

      I can sympathize with an annoyed answer when uncomfortable truths are reminded.

      But out of curiosity, would "the outside world" that "neither understands the bridge-burning approach of the new government nor the resentment loaded psyche of the Greek public" include Martin Wolff or Paul Krugman? Or does the "outside world" coincide with those that agree with a certain political and economic approach (be that right or wrong) and exclude everybody else? Out of curiosity, is a country's cultural and political identity put on the table once it's government adopts an economic policy espoused by at least a healthy percentage of the world's most prominent economists? Out of curiosity, in the (very much conceivable) case Madame Le Pen becomes France's President, will she be confronted on her political views, or will the Germans ask the French to excuse themselves from European cultural traditions?

      Greece's European legal traditions are fine, thank you. Under the enormous social stress of losing 25% of its GDP and unemployment rate climbing to 25% in five years, the "resentment loaded psyche of the Greek public" has not come even remotely close to producing anything resembling Volksgerichtshofs or Freislers. Under comparable social circumstances, other "resentment loaded psyches" did.

  4. No doubt that Greece belongs to the Greeks only - literally and by mentality! For exactly that reason I came to the conclusion that it is not possible to have Greece as a member of Euroland.

    A common currency implies so many harsh conditions for the participating countries that with good reasons Greeks feel domineered by other EU countries. Only with after reverting to Drachma can Greece life their happy lives, independent of foreign money and influence.

    Happy, less rich, but independent!

  5. I disagree that Greece did not experience the Enlightment. Greece did, but in its own way: Modern Greek Enlightenment

    Prominent figures of the Modern Greek history such as Rigas Feraios [his image is stamped on the 0.10 Euro Greek coin] and Adamantios Korais were also major figures of the Modern Greek Enlightment.

    P.S. Let me copy a piece from Wikipedia's article about Rigas Feraios death. "He entered into communication with general Napoleon Bonaparte, to whom he sent a snuff-box made of the root of a Bay Laurel taken from a ruined temple of Apollo, and eventually he set out with a view to meeting the general of the Army of Italy in Venice. While traveling there, he was betrayed by Demetrios Oikonomos Kozanites, a Greek businessman, had his papers confiscated, and was arrested at Trieste by the Austrian authorities (an ally of the Ottoman Empire, Austria was concerned the French Revolution might provoke similar upheavals in its realm and later formed the Holy Alliance).

    He was handed over with his accomplices to the Ottoman governor of Belgrade, where he was imprisoned and tortured. From Belgrade, he was to be sent to Constantinople to be sentenced by Sultan Selim III. While in transit, he and his five collaborators were strangled to prevent their being rescued by Rhegas's friend Osman Pazvantoğlu. Their bodies were thrown into the Danube River.

    His last words are reported as being: "I have sown a rich seed; the hour is coming when my country will reap its glorious fruits".

  6. Here's what a French writer thinks about Greece, the Balkans and the Enlightenment (automatic translation, towards the bottom of the page):

    Of course, a Westerner would need to get over his smugness and deeply rooted feeling of superiority to take such opinions into consideration (which I don't think is the case in this blog).

  7. Norway, the country where I live now, does not belong to EU. It has still its own specific habits, though modernism is winning more and more from traditions. It is visible in the architecture.

    Norwegians are Norwegians. Not Europeans. It would be so excellent if they would have a more open minded attitude towards that what is different.

    But they do not have. They suffer though. Inside is a deep wish to do it different, though, and that is visible on the special spot on the hand of the screaming child in Vigeland Sculpture Park in Oslo. Norwegians, who visit the park, touch the child on its hand, as if the child screams for them. That scream for change is visible in Norway's modern architecture. For me.

    Norwegians suffer from depressions.
    Committing suicide is a hidden part of the society.
    Of course. Also the sekts. The power of churches and religions.
    The must to wear bunad, when young people of fifteen years young have to make a public statement to be faithful to their religion. In my opinion the wings, used to fly, are cut from them.
    Cruel. But they smile on the photos, with the girl or boy in front of a beautiful Norwegian landscape and dressed in the traditional bunad.

    Breivik behaved as the perfect one, but had a completely hidden inner world, as all Norwegians. Breivik's ideas about a perfect society were against the inner wish of too many more modern Norwegians: to build another Norway. What he did was a public scream of many others, but nobody knows about it.
    Breivik wanted/wants Norway to stay as it is, with its bunad (traditional costume) and without foreigners who bring in another culture and color.

    All what and who is against the evolution of mankind (a never ending process of life and its natural development) of the human being, also in habits, and religions, is against life itself, and therfore against the human being itself. That creates frustrations and mental health problems.

    Evolution is a natural need to go on, to search for new horizons and new directions, as Marco Polo did and so many many others, but also to connect with other peoples.

    (part 1)

  8. (continued)
    Peoples can be united without losing their own "soul", and character.
    Greece has been hardly possible to connect with, because of the language. How many Greeks speak English? In Norway all Norwegians speak perfectly English. That makes it at least lesser closed. That makes it more easy to connect. To understand each other. To open minds for other ideas.

    Greeks can talk bad about you without any problem, even in front of you, if you do not speak the language.
    This was already happening in the Greek government: not any European knew where they, Syriza, were talking about. not anybody has understood Alexis Tsipras, where he was talking about really and which abusive words he was using towards "Europe". If, then Europe would have never been at the same table talking with him now.

    What does Greece really want?
    Time will learn. I cannot imagine that they can live in happiness when they are isolated from the east AND the west. They have a huge fear for Turkey, and I do understand that fear. What can they do alone against them? Turkey was even teasing them in the last week by flying over the Greek waters, with several imposing military airplanes. They just took the space, to exercise, as they explained it. So brutal and violent, and how many Greeks have feared this act.
    Even Greeks who do not live in Greece.

    The question is also: WHAT do we, (I am Dutch, and I feel European) want? Do WE want to continue with the behavior of the Greek ministers?
    I would like to be able to sign a referendum addressed to all Europeans.
    I would write: No. Because I do NOT believe that this new Greek government has good intentions with Europe.

    In my opinion Greece as a culture is different from any other culture. Each country has another culture and is different, not possible to generalize. Impossible! As long there are borders this is impossible.
    Differences between and in cultures have light sides and dark sides. It is clear that the dark sides of the culture are also a problem for the people itself, also for the Greeks. Talking about Greeks as different from too many other EU countries: they will never meet another country or society that wants to cooperate with liars. With cheaters. With a system that is not reliable. So here is an opportunity for Greeks to start with changing that dark side. For their own sake, well being, and future.

    Countries in Europe, united in EU, have all their own specific character.
    I do not prefer the French people's character, at all, though it is a western country. France behaves like a snob, arrogant, a long time in the recent past they were not behaving like Europeans, at all, but as a state with a veto. That has changed. Fortunately.

    I can go through all countries and mention their own specific typical character, despite their being united in EU. Nobody ever can change that.
    My soul is feeling more Greek than Dutch, and because of the Greek culture I can identify myself better as a soul, the one who has emotions. But mentally I am more related with the Germans. And yes, this creates also battles inside of myself.
    Important note is that the mind, in also healthcare, psychological healthcare, and in spiritual psychology, is a state of being that grows out of the emotions, it is a higher state of being. Emotions cannot rule our life. Because emotions influence even the rational thinking. Emotions have bright and dark moods. The mind has to master the emotions without suppressing them, by transforming dark emotions. The mind needs to understand, and learning goes also via life itself, life lessons, mirrors, there as other human beings who reflect. Learning goes beyond the rational studies on universities.

  9. Thére is the lack of possibilities in Greece itself when they are isolated: Greeks are overruled by their emotions, and will have to go a path through evolution as well, to learn to use a controlled mind, a mind that understands, sees, knows, transforms the emotions, integrates the emotions, to be able to communicate with others, and to unite with others, without losing their own identity.

    Greece can learn from Europe, and Europe can learn from the Greeks.
    Europe may not lose the beauty of what is related with feelings, and should not overestimate the rationalism.
    A lot of Europeans have lost the connection with their true deeper self, because of this rationalism. That is extremely dangerous, as dangerous as the overruling of the mind, the ratio, by what are emotions.

  10. So the Reformation and the Enlightenment, is why there have been 2 World Wars, slavery, colonialism, in the "rational" "West".

    I see...

  11. Which part of Enlightenment or the Rennaisance led the EU leaders of the last years, into actively campaigning for and against political parties in Greece, making a mockery of their so called democratic values?

    The only "Enlightenment" your "west" believes in, is the power of money.

  12. Mr. Kastner,

    When quoting other people, it is preferable if one quotes them accurately and without altering the context. The Karamanlis-Papandreou debate, wasn't about whether it belonged culturally to the west or East, but about foreign policy and the concept of national sovereignity, which was always very dear to Andreas Papandreou.

    To restore historical accuracy, this is the video.

  13. Sir,

    While I see the rationale of your post and the need for structural reform for Greek society itself -to a large extend still organized around the feudal structures inherited by the Ottomans- I have to say that I am always amazed at the ease with which the 'civilized Westerners' throw stereotypes around at will, but at the same time are always shocked when the tables are turned on them.

    Granted, the Greek psyche is not easy to understand unless one is an 'insider' (and sometimes, hard even then) but I fail to see why it has to be the Calvinist way or the highway. The amount of abuse poured with such glee on the average southerner in northern countries like Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland etc. over the past few years has made me wonder whether I actually want to identify with what northern Europeans define as European.

    Ultimately, it doesn't really matter.

    I am reminded of a dialogue in Joseph Heller's Catch-22 in a brothel between a wizened old Italian man and a young brash American airman about who actually won the war. (an outstanding book, BTW, but rather too loving of human beings for our Northern-European protestant friends).

    Or, as brilliantly summarized by (beloved) poet Costas Montis:
    Χρόνια σκλαβκιές ατέλειωτες.
    Τον πάτσο τζιαι τον κλώτσο τους.
    Εμείς τζιαμαί: Ελιές τζιαι τερατσιές
    πάνω στον ρότσον τους

    Endless years of slavery.
    Their cuffs and their kicks.
    We always there: olive and carob trees
    On their rock.

    Things are bad right now and all the world and his mother think that they have the right to open their mouths and throw words like 'nationalism', 'lazy', 'crooks' around without knowing sh*t from Shinola.

    This, too, shall pass.

  14. Modern "Greece" is a nation of gypsies,even lower than modern day Turkey

  15. From the river Ibro in the west to the river Evros in the east, that space in between is Greek concept Evropi. On this basis, Greeks cannot leave Europe to Hermans. Why?

    Because names go wherever the creator originator takes them!

    Old-European saying - Never Trust a Herman!

  16. first of all whether Greece experienced "the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation, the Rennaisance, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, etc." is not about anyone's "personal opinion", it's about official history. And official history says that all of Greece has experienced the last two (enlightenment and industrial revolution) meanwhile the first 3 were missed by most of Greeks but all first 3 already make up deep past.

    what people often fail to see is that you don't need to be Fin or German to Be western or European. People like Maltese, Sardinians or Sicilians are equally European as Fins and Germans are. Are these people "eastern" in any sense? Are these people (maltese, sicilians and Sardinians in the example) so different from Greeks? My answer to both questions is "i don't think so"

    What people also fail to see is that Orthodoxy, in spite of all differences it may has with the rest of Christian Churches, it remains part of Christianity, and if we equate the East with Islamic faith and West with Christianity, then Orthodoxy still is part of the West, maybe its easternmost part, but still West

    Greece has all traits to be considered western: Greko-Roman heritage, Christianity and Roman law. so yes, GREECE IS WESTERN.